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Tackling the world's toughest footrace: Style Dynamo runs Marathon Des Sables

posted on Tuesday, 21st April 2015 | find under Nutrition

Becs, the running queen behind healthy lifestyle blog styledynamo.com, shares the most gruelling pain points and astounding victories from Marathon Des Sables. And lists five reasons you might consider signing up, too...

Dix, neuf, huit, sept… the countdown has begun. And as the wind gently brushes your face and the desert sun warms your skin, you come to the realisation that this is it. This is the adventure you have been waiting for. The Marathon des Sables 2015 is about to kick off and you’re going to give it your best shot.

Known as the toughest footrace on earth, the Marathon des Sables is no ordinary race. Indeed, the annual self-sufficient multi-stage challenge (you carry everything you need in a rucksack, including 14,000 calories of food to keep you fuelled over the five-stage, six-day race) pushes you to the max. The organisers provide between 1.5 and 3 litres of water at the start, finish and each checkpoint of the stages, medical attention if needed, salt tablets and Berber tents where you will sleep alongside the same seven competitors each night. Forget about luxuries such as toilet paper: the Marathon des Sables is as basic as it comes.

On paper, most days seem achievable: 36.2K, 30K, 36.2K, 91.2K and 42.2K. But when you throw in the desert obstacles such as temperatures of above 55 degrees Celsius, ascents of up to 25% and kilometres of sand dunes, the picture looks a little more menacing. This year the long stage (91.2K) was the furthest any competitors have ever raced in the history of the Marathon des Sables. And after 24 hours of walking across the desert, I knew the Marathon des Sables 2015 would be unlike any other race I’d ever encountered. 

Style Dynamo Marathon Des Sables

Becs (back left) with her base camp teammates

Mentally and physically challenging? I’d say so. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? I’d love to.

Even with battered feet and tan lines to rival the stripes of a zebra, I’d recommend this adventure to anyone. Here’s why:

1. The lure of the Sahara desert
It’s tough, it’s harsh and you’ll find remnants of it between your toes, but boy, the Sahara desert is beautiful. With sand dunes as far as the eye can see and climbs littered with rocks and desert grass, it’s a scene to rival the set of Star Wars. The sky fills with colour at sunset and then the stars come into play and you being to understand why the desert can be so captivating.

2. A complete digital detox
Some people go on retreats for the restorative benefits of a digital shut-down. Others face the challenge of the Marathon des Sables, severing most connections to the outside world for over a week. The only contact you get from home is a sheet of paper with messages from well-wishers, and the option to respond to one-email address with a 1,000 character-long message daily. This break from the crazy digital world calms your mind, making you live in the rather magical moment of this life-changing race. 

3. Camp camaraderie
At end of each stage, you head back to your tent to find the rest of your crew making their dinner using Esbit fuel tablets and tiny cookers, chatting about parts of the course or sharing stories. You’ll be surprised by how much these people – strangers only a few days ago – will support you throughout the journey and work hard to keep everyone’s spirits high.

4. An emotionally intense challenge
No matter how much you prepare, there’s nothing quite like the desert to upset the apple cart. I trained so hard and yet my feet and ankles still managed to give a whole new meaning to the word ‘cankles’. The biggest mental challenge was knowing I could no longer run and that I would be on my feet walking for over 24 hours – at one point in the dead of night with only glow sticks to guide my way back to base. But the moment you cross that finish line is so intense. You’re ecstatic, exhausted and in pain, but that mammoth journey is behind you.

5. A once-in-a-lifetime piece of bling
Even if you’re not one for medals, the Marathon des Sables medal is going to take pride of place on your mantelpiece because it represents more than a race. It is a symbol of an adventure where you met a brilliant bunch of people, were at times completely out of your comfort zone, dealt with extreme conditions that pushed you mentally and physically, and still you came out the other side smiling.

Marathon Des Sables Style Dynamo medal

Becs blogs at thestyledynamo.com, where you can stay tuned for her next challenge.

Congratulations, Becs
By WendyG - 23rd April 2015
Congratulations Becs on completing MdS. I know what you mean about the long stage being emotional. I completed MdS in 2011. It was a pivotal moment. Even when I think about that long stage now (albeit was "only" 50 miles then), it still brings tears to my eyes as it was such hard work. A great effort.
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